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A scandal engulfing Mayor Catherine Pugh and many associates expands with federal involvement, as calls for systemic change grows

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JAISAL NOOR: FBI and IRS agents raided Mayor Catherine Pugh’s home, her attorney’s office, Baltimore City Hall, and multiple other locations on Thursday, April 25, the latest development in the fallout of the Healthy Holly corruption scandal engulfing Baltimore’s political establishment. They did not disclose what they were looking for, but left with boxes full of potential evidence.

This week, acting Mayor Jack Young fired three close aides of Pugh who were connected to her prior business dealings. He said he didn’t know the federal agents were coming.

JACK YOUNG: Not talking to anybody. Just letting you know I was unaware. And all I’m doing is keeping the city moving forward. Thank you all.

ANDRE DAVIS: As you know, the execution of search warrants was just completed here at City Hall by the FBI and IRS agents. I have received from the agents a return, which is sort of a legal term, for an inventory of what was seized during the search. I have made the determination that disclosure of the return at this time would be premature, and may well impede the success of the ongoing investigation.

JAISAL NOOR: Mayor Catherine Pugh is facing multiple investigations amidst allegations of corruption and self-dealing during her time as mayor and state senator. While serving on the board of the University of Maryland Medical System, Pugh secured a no-bid $500,000 contract to sell them self-published children’s books. Then as mayor she sold hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of books to companies bidding on multimillion dollar contracts with the city.

Pugh and several other members of the board of the University of Maryland Medical System accused of self-dealing have resigned or taken leave of absences. But critics have noted other figures, like former state Sen. Francis Kelly and Bob Chrencik have not faced the same level of scrutiny the mayor has.

LUKE BROADWATER: Kelly is the person who has been most enriched that was on the board. Frank Kelly really is perhaps the most influential person in the growth of the University of Maryland Medical System. He’s the senator behind the privatization effort. He’s a founding board member. And despite a provision of state law that says after every five years you have to step down from the board or your term ends, he has remained on the board up until this scandal broke. They report to us he’s made $16 million in the past five or six years off the contracts.

JAISAL NOOR: Meanwhile, a coalition of city councilpeople have announced proposed reforms to the city charter in wake of the scandal.

LEON PINKETT: It was a surprise to everyone on the council that we didn’t have more, I guess, ability to deal with a situation like this. And our hope is that we will never face a situation like this in our city again. But you can rest assured that if it was to happen again, the council has the mechanism–will have the mechanism in place to deal with situations like this going forward.

JAISAL NOOR: That would take away power from the mayor and distribute it to the City Council. Bill Henry is leading the charge.

BILL HENRY: I put in a charter amendment trying to give the council the ability to add money in the budget instead of just being able to cut it, so that it would make it a little bit more even of a budgetary power with the mayor. It also eliminated the mayor’s line item veto. The mayor has a line item veto for the budget. So if the mayor doesn’t like any of the changes the council made in the budget the mayor can veto just that change right now. If you want to talk about the three most important, I think that that’s the second most important. The most important is to reduce the veto override threshold from three quarters down to–I was being conservative saying two thirds, which is in keeping with the federal level, the state level, and many other cities our size, look at a two thirds level for overriding a veto.

JAISAL NOOR: Activist, scholar, and professor Lawrence Brown says deep change is needed to purge corruption from city government.

LAWRENCE BROWN: We have to democratize our city government. We have to, I would say, abolish the Board of Estimates. I would abolish the Board of Estimates and put more power of budgeting in the hands of the city council. And I would actually democratize the budget even more by making participatory budgeting more of a feature of the way that we actually allocate our resources in this city. As a lot of people here may know, I actually advocate for Baltimore neighborhood reparations. And so as a part of that, 10 percent of our budget will be allocated towards redlined black neighborhoods, and those residents in those neighborhoods, they will be able to come together and decide how the money they get will be spent in their community. So I’m for participatory budgeting.

JAISAL NOOR: We’ll keep following these developments at I’m Jaisal Noor.

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